It is the responsibility of governments at all levels in any country to secure and protect the lives and properties of their citizens at all times. While the issue of security of lives and properties of Nigerians remains a shared responsibility of all the tiers of government in Nigeria as enshrined in the 1999 constitution, as amended, the federal government still has the exclusive legislative authority on the formation and functionality of security outfits in the country.
For example, the Federal Government of Nigeria has control over the issues of arms and ammunition and the deployment of such for use by all arms-bearing security agencies such as the Nigerian Army, the Navy, Air Force and the Nigeria Police Force. The use of arms by other paramilitary agencies such as the Nigerian Customs, Immigration, Civil Defense Corps and the Road Safety Commission is heavily regulated and controlled by the Federal Government. The states and local government authorities in Nigeria may set up local security agencies but are not, under the law of the country, allowed or permitted to bear and use firearms.
It is in the above context and in response to security challenges that I will like to view and express my opinion on the desirability or otherwise of the clamour for the creation of community policing in the country.
The heightened security challenges confronting the nation and the seeming incapability of the security agencies, particularly the Nigeria Police Force to contain internal security challenges of armed banditry, rape, kidnapping and killer herdsmen across the country has made the establishment of community police inevitable.
Modern community policing, however, has its origins in most European countries around the 1960s – a time when urban riots and gang activity were on the increase, and when brute force by police responses had caused a deterioration of police-community relationships. Law enforcement and community leaders saw it was time for a change and started re-examining the role of the police in public safety management.
Community policing is a concept that emphasizes working proactively with the citizens at the local level in order to prevent crime and crime-related problems in the country. It is therefore an idea that premised 7the security of lives and properties on the collaborative efforts of the people and the police formations. The concept, hitherto alien to the structure and functionality of the Nigeria Police Force began to gain relevance in the country from the early 2000.
There are some schools of thought who share the view that Nigeria, in the practice of true federalism is too big for a centrally controlled police force. This school of thought contend that the creation of state or community police is a critical component of federalism and that, as state chief security officers, the state governors in Nigeria should be in direct command and control of state police operations. At the moment, the state governors bear the status of chief law executive officers of the states as mere appellation. To maintain law and order in the state, the state governor still relies on the state commissioner of police appointed by the Inspector General of Police in Abuja to whom they owe allegiance.
There are those who, of course, share a contrary opinion about the creation of such a security outfit. They express the deeply-founded fears that Nigeria’s fledgling democracy is not ripe for the creation of state or community policing. They contend that Nigerian politicians, especially those in power, could hijack such outfits for settlement of personal scores or intimidation of their perceived political rivals before or during elections.
In juxtaposing the opposing schools of thought on the issue of the creation of state or community policing in Nigeria, in relation to the existing security situation in the country, one could not but seek a melting point between the two extremes.
There is an urgent need, therefore, in my opinion to strike a balance and present a workable solution to the lingering security situation in the country.
In my own view, the establishment of community police as recently done by the Federal Government, with strict guidelines in apparent response to the needs to tackle insecurity in the country is indeed a welcome development. If anything, it is an idea generally believed to be long overdue in providing adequate and commensurate measure of security for the protection of lives and properties in the country.
It is also a gradual process of devolving security power of the Nigeria Police from the central command and control to the states and local government areas in Nigeria. This will promote effective and proactive policing as against the reactive system.
By recruiting local people with adequate knowledge of their environment into the force and engaging community chiefs and community leaders in the process of intelligence gathering, the Nigeria Police Force will be at the highest level of operational efficiency.
With strict adherence to the guidelines, control and supervisory measures contained in setting up community policing in Nigeria, the fears of the outfit being manipulated or hijacked by politicians or powerful individuals in the states will be allayed.
While the establishment of community policing in Nigeria is seen and accepted as a welcome development, its operational efficiency largely depends on the level of cooperation from the people. At the moment, the level of distrust and suspicion an average Nigerian nurses against the Nigeria Police is legendary. An average Nigerian sees the police officer as not only corruption personified but also an agent of force and brutality. So, changing the endemic negative perception of the Nigerian Police Force by the Nigerian public will require a lot of persuasion and conviction.
The level of poverty and deprivation among the large population of Nigerians will impact negatively on the community police to effectively maintain law and order in the various communities. There is a growing concern that community police personnel might be more corrupt and therefore could be easy prey in the hands of politicians and moneybags in the society.
The general decay in the welfare, structure, infrastructure and operational functionality of the central police force, if replicated at the local level, will greatly hamper effective community policing in the country.
A more proactive community policing network in Nigeria should therefore be based on what I would term COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services). As a community based service, COPS, under strict guidelines and monitoring, will be saddled with the responsibility of training fresh recruits and community leaders on community policing strategies, terrorism prevention, school and market safety and crime control.
The key components of community policing strategies are organizational transformation, community partnership and shared problem solving. Individually and collectively, these components, if properly harnessed, will not only make the officers and men of the force accountable and responsible to their host communities, it will also decentralize police formations in the country and make community policing more proactive in tackling the root causes of neighbourhood crimes in a manner that promotes public trust and inspires confidence.
Bakare writes via